working it out is the real relationship

The Real Relationship: Working it Out

Originally published July 17th, 2019 in A Few Words.

The real relationship happened last night. I had been struggling, feeling stuck, pushing myself in ways that were leaving me frustrated, angry, and sad. My husband was mad at me for this. He pulled away and let me struggle. Finally, I said, “Why aren’t you helping me? Why have you left me alone in this?”

“I cannot help you with the project you are working on,” he said. “I don’t mean that,” I said. “Why aren’t you helping me emotionally — don’t you see I am stuck? I am confused. I don’t know how to get out of this state of being.” We talked. We argued. We hashed it out. He said, “You remind me of my mother when she was stuck, and it hurts too much. I feel helpless and upset, and I don’t know how to help you. So, I get angry and pull away.”

Why couldn’t you have just said that? I think to myself. But I know the answer. He doesn’t know how. He doesn’t even know what he is feeling until we talk it out.

I get caught in my struggle — fighting myself, fighting my life, instead of knowing how to be, how to let go, how to flow. He sees me, and he gets caught in his battle of what to do with someone who is momentarily lost. “I need support,” I insist. “I need someone to help me break through my panic, my frustration, confusion — my craziness. I need you to help me.” “Okay,” he says. “Okay. I didn’t know.”

We have connected again. We feel close again. I don’t feel abandoned, and my husband doesn’t feel helpless. But there is no way to learn to reach towards each other, without the ‘fall’ from grace into the hell of conflict and hurt feelings, followed by the hashing it out and then the move back into connection. That is the only way. Learning to reconnect is iterative. We do it over and over again. This process is part of building a connected relationship.

The real relationship isn’t necessarily happening when we are on cruise control, but when the events of our lives force us to tackle something. It happens when we struggle; when we are forced to look at ourselves and the emotional issues that we need to address to bridge the gap between us.

This process is how we learn about ourselves and each other and how to be there for each other. This is how we repair old wounds, heal, and grow.

One more knot has been smoothed in each of us, and between us. This is how it is. This is how we learn to love. Working it out is the real relationship.

For some relationship inspirational quotes –

If you want to learn more about courage –

Intimacy (Into-Me-See): Invite Your Partner For A Visit Into Your World

Most of us want to feel connected, loved and safe in a relationship, but building a relationship that works requires a number of abilities. Building a relationship requires building trust. It requires an attitude of kindness and curiosity towards our partner. It requires looking at our relationship as an adventure, rather than a problem or chore. And it requires being vulnerable – sharing who we are with our partner.

We often want to be listened to by our partners, but can we also listen to them? One thing that makes therapy beneficial is that the therapist is professionally trained not only in psychology, but also in listening. As we are listened to, and validated, we feel affirmed and understood. For example, if my partner says to me, “it really hurt me when you made plans without asking me how I felt about them.” If I respond by arguing and saying, “I thought you were busy,” etc., it could escalate into an argument. What if instead I said, “It really hurt your feelings when I made plans without considering what you might want. Do you want to tell me more?”

In relationships, each person lives in a different world. We will never live in the same world; never have the same past, the exact same experience or way of understanding our lives. We have different wounds and different sensitivities. When we are listened to, we feel less alone. We crave to be listened to without argument or interruption, to simply be heard. One of the things that make a relationship work is when we can listen to our partner, and conversely, know our partner will listen to us.

When we cross the bridge into our partner’s world, we leave our own opinions and self-protection behind. Instead, we bring in curiosity and caring. As we do this, we increase safety in the relationship. The other becomes safe to expose themselves to us. But to do this requires maturity. Listening and understanding without putting in our own two cents is a skill. It is not always easy to listen to the other. With every word they say, we may want to respond, to defend, or to disagree. Crossing the bridge into the world of our partner is problematic if we are reactive. It is hard to listen to another and hold back our disagreements if we are afraid we will be overpowered or lose ourselves by not speaking. It is important to trust that we don’t have to share our own opinions and counter every thing we do not agree with. It is also important to know that our partner will listen to us without argument.

Listening does not mean we agree. It does not mean we give up our own desires and needs. It just means that we listen and validate that we understand. It means we want to understand our partner’s world, even if it is not our world, even if it may cause us pain, even if we want them to change.

What is too hard for you to listen to? Why? Places we cannot listen indicate areas of deep pain. It might be that your partner has a need that makes you feel unimportant or abandoned. Can you listen anyway? What is your partner unable to hear about you? How would you feel if your partner could listen? Is there an imbalance? Does one partner always listen and the other always explain? If so, these roles will need to be switched.

I encourage you to open up the space to listen to each other in your relationship. If you find that either you or your partner is not able to fully listen without countering or arguing, get help. A relationship cannot truly have intimacy if each partner does not feel safe to share his or her feelings. Imago workshops teach people in relationships to build intimacy by listening. Therapy can also teach people to listen to each other.

Safety & Reactivity in Relationships

Safety & Reactivity in Relationships

How many times have we begun a relationship, full of hope, only to have it crash and burn, or one party flee?

Many of us have relational injuries from the past. This often manifests as a “fear of intimacy.” Beneath this phrase, lurks not feeling safe in relationships. Our fathers may have had tempers, or our mothers may have been intrusive. A past partner may have been abusive, or perhaps their neediness or jealousy was a burden. Maybe there was emotional intensity that was scary. A multitude of possibilities exist. Whatever the case, we found that relating to another could be costly. We learned to defend ourselves, to shut down, cover up, disappear, attack, or protect ourselves in some other way. We learned to not be too vulnerable, to only let the other in so far, or to run if we got scared. We learned to make ourselves safe by controlling the depth of the relationship in a variety of ways.

Often when we get scared, we react, we become irrational, we move into our limbic brain and rather than being rational, we respond from fight or flight. Some of us have trauma that is extensive enough that we move into dissociative states, fragments of ourselves that look like Dr. Jeckle changing into Mr. Hyde. Irrationality is scary to the other person and a major problem in relationships. It can trigger a variety of defensive postures including early abandonment of a promising relationship. Anger, irrationality, and mood swings directed at the other person almost always create a feeling of not being safe with that person.

Interactions with an intimate other ultimately trigger our deepest wounds, our attachment needs, feelings of vulnerability, and our need for safety. Anything unhealed is bound to get touched and come up. These wounds can vary from feeling judged, to not important, abandoned, or even abused. Regardless, these wounds trigger deep and primal feelings, feelings of desperation, anger, confusion, shame, etc and can cause us to react.

The real problem emerges however, when we cannot own our wound, but instead blame the other person, or expect them to “take care of it” or not trigger us. Ultimately, we have to learn to tend to our own wounds, as well as ask the other to be kind and gentle with our fragilities, to be safe for us. Both parties have to take responsibility for his or her own behavior before we become safe for the other. This requires open and non-blaming communication.

What are your deepest fears in relationship to others? Are these fears related to how you were treated in your past? Have you started to take responsibility for them? Do you have a partner who is willing to stay open and talk to you when you are triggered, when you trigger each other?

A relationship has the potential to be a cauldron for growth and transformation, or pain, fear or flight. Everything unfinished and triggered in that particular combination emerges to step into the dance of that relationship. In the process, we get to decide if this situation is safe enough, or if we want or deserve more. If we are attempting an intimate relationship with somebody who allows us to feel nourished and safe enough, we can stay and do the work and play of learning to love and grow in the matrix of connection with another.

To learn a bit about my story, read this article: